Friday, August 24, 2007

Fraggle lady

Riding the el to and from work is, if nothing else, the best cross-section of humanity available in any one place or time. This is what happened last night:

This lady gets on the el over by County Hospital. She has blond hair, curly, with hot pink stripes it in. She hasn't brushed it today, she looks like a Fraggle. She's on her cell phone. Apparently she'd been sitting at County all day in the hard, straight-back chairs and she was in pain. They had been giving her a hard time. She'd been waiting 13 hours. On the phone, she wails things like:

"They keep running these TESTS. They can't see the problem with TESTS. They have to see INSIDE MY BODY."

And I smirk because it's funny to see a Fraggle talking about people having to see inside her body. Next to where she's sitting, there's a jittery man standing in dirty jeans and a torn t-shirt. The shirt used to be white but now it's covered in the grime and grit of life on the street. He's either jacking off or peeing on himself, which is better than my first thought, which was he was cracked out. Having a grown man pee himself while a Fraggle says things like "I'm going to go home and self-medicate. I will medicate myself. Today is Wednesday, right? Thursday? What the FUCK happened to Wednesday?" is funnier than you'd think.

The man sits down, squeezes his knees together but the telltale smell of piss fills the train car. The lady is saying, "I can' can't use the phone during the day when I'm not in Texas." Does she realize she's in Chicago? And these are daytime minutes? The fact that she could mistake this blue line train for the Lone Star State makes me giggle quietly to myself, my face turned toward the window, hoping she can't see.

There's a mom and two little kids - one maybe 2 years old, and the other an infant - and the 2-year old is looking at the Fraggle with wide eyes. The Fraggle says, "They run tests but they won't get them back for a week and after a week I'll be gone - gone!"

The man with the wet crotch and jittery hands gets up and exits the train. It's been raining hard for about five stops now. The Fraggle is saying, "I'll just go home tonight and I think I should be blond again. I'll go get some hair dye on the way home, wherever. Whatever."

As if dying her hair will cure all of her medical woes. I have my face buried in my satchel, trying not to laugh out loud because you don't want to laugh at the crazies when you're on the train. There's nowhere to run when they come after you.

The mom and the two kids exit the train, holding up newspapers to protect themselves from the wind and the rain. The little girl shows no signs of fear as she and her mom and sibling march into the night. The storm swallows them up as our train abandons them to the lightening and thunder that are infesting the sky.

Fraggle ends her call, walks up and down the train once, twice. Halfway through the third lap she stops and her head whips around to the windows and the weather outside. "OH MY GOD!" she wails. "OH MY GOD! I DON'T EVEN HAVE AN UMBRELLA OR ANYTHING! OH GOD! OH GOD!"

She leaps off the train at the next stop, presumably to color her hair or trek back to Fraggle Rock, or maybe to melt as the rain touches her skin. After the doors close, my eyes are wet from giggling and the prospect of walking home in the rain and wind doesn't seem so bad; the giggling keeps the gloom at bay. It's a miniature euphoria that keeps me grinning all the way home.

Is there nothing those Fraggles can't do?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

CTA Rally

One of my favorite blogs, The CTA Tattler, mentioned that there's a rally at the Thompson Center on the 28th. It's at 11:30. That's 11:30 a.m., on a Tuesday.

I don't understand. Do people not have jobs? Who the hell can just roll out to the Thompson center at 11:30? Maybe if you work near there, you can take your lunch really early and go down there, but you'll only be there about 15 minutes before you have to go back to work.

Hold a rally when the people who are affected the most by the service cuts can be there. People with no alternate transportation, people who rely on the CTA to put food on the table or pay a family member's medical bills. People who work 10, 12, 14 hours a day and can't afford a car because they're working 14 hours doing all the dirty jobs that you don't want to do, and they're doing them for minimum wage.

Damn. Use some sense when you're putting together a rally, for fuck's sake. Get together a 24-hour rally, where people can come before or after work, or on their way to school. Make a rally that everybody can participate in, not just the lucky few who have dwaddling time around 11:30 every day, or who have enough sick days that they can call in. It's our CTA, too. Our designated driver on those late nights, our carpool to and from work. Let us rally around her success, too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Poor Doxology

Remember that scene in "Neverending Story" where Atrayu had to watch his trusty horse, Artax, sink to a miserable death in the Swamp of Sadness? That's basically what's going on with my car.

My poor car, Doxology. Named after Sam Hamilton's horse, which is a reference to Steinbeck's "East of Eden" for those of you not in the know.

I know it's stupid, it's just a car, it's not a horse or a family member or even alive at all, but damn - it's Doxology. That car has been there for more with more consistency and grace than anyone else I've known in the six years I've had him. He's moved me more times than I can count - sometimes across town and once it was to Maryland. On the drive back from Maryland, with 90% of everything I owned crammed into every available inch of the car, a blizzard chased us through five states for two days. Doxology held on, though - we got through just fine.

When we got t-boned in that hit and run, he still ran. You couldn't use the passenger door at all, and ever since then the wind might catch that door just the wrong way and give the car an unexpected tug, but he could stil get from point A to point B. He wasn't pretty, but I'm not a proud person, so it didn't matter.

I have this family that isn't my family. I call them my adopted family, which is close enough and not really the point of the story. The youngest daughter in the family, she and I are pretty close, like sisters. At least, we were when she lived here. On warm summer nights she and I would ride around in Doxology - through lower Wacker Drive, up Lake Shore Drive, around that park across the street from Lincoln Park Zoo, then back home. Just me and my sister, blaring music and joyriding. I miss having her here, miss her fucking with the radio and throwing trash out the window, no matter how much I yelled at her for it.

Sometimes when I drive along now, I remember when I was in Maryland and my sister's kids were in the car. The youngest would crawl up to her car seat and say, "Aunt Maggie, you have to clean this car!" And I'd laugh and tell her to make a car payment and I'd think about it.

I remember driving with all three of my sister's kids one day after there had been a lot of snow. My back window was caked in snow. I warmed up the car but couldn't find the snow brush, so the snow stayed on the back window. As we rounded a corner, the kids were all turned around (as best they could, being buckled in) trying to watch the patch slide off the back. It slid a little one way, sort of teasing the audience. It slid up when we hit a bump, then back down; its audience was captive and brimming with excitement. When it finally slid off into a ditch, the kids cheered like it was some great accomplishment. Their cheers still ring in my ears sometimes, when I need a reason to smile.

Doxology has been there for me when I'm scared, or excited, or crying so hard I can barely drive. It's helped deliver me and countless friends home safely. Most of those friends are now scattered and gone, but Doxology and I still muddle through.

Long gone are the days when I'd drive down to Kankakee just for the sake of going for a drive in the middle of the night. Hell, for the past three weeks I considered myself lucky if I could make it over the bridge at the end of my street. Gone are the days I'd spend waiting to get back to my car, where I had the day's only guaranteed air conditioning or heat, depending on the season.

Poor Dox. I changed his plug wires last night, it made everything worse. I tried to drive around the block, he froze up on me. The steering wheel locked when I was in an intersection with moving traffic. I had to re-start him four times just to get back around the rest of the block. He's twelve years old, with 122,000 miles. That's pretty good for an Escort that's been through what he's been through. A friend of mine back east says it's time to do the respectful thing and just let him go out with some dignity. She's not the one facing a 90-minute commute (each way) now that Dox has two tires in the grave. She's also not the one who has only been able to count on Dox and Dox alone all these years. Friends, lovers, family - they came and went. Dox held on. Dox got me where I needed to go. Dox was my 2-door sanctuary with a hatch back and a busted dome light. Dox was my Artax, and my empty wallet is his Swamp of Sadness.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Get it together, LPZ

I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo on Saturday. I could have gone back to the Brookfield Zoo to try to re-take some of the pics I lost when the old camera was stolen, but that's like $20 + parking and shit. LPZ is free, so fuck that Brookfield noise.

Rain reared its ugly head while I was waiting for the #22 bus to whisk me away. I thought, "Nah, it's not going to rain. Tom Skilling said no, This'll pass by the time I get to the zoo."

I got to the zoo and it was just a drizzle, so I headed indoors to the monkey house. The monkey house wasn't big, and each display area (for lack of a better term) seemed cramped and crowded compared to the spacious primate digs at Brookfield. The monkeys, usually a source of mirth and frivolous laughter, were pretty depressing. They were just sitting around. One or two of them got the gumption to run around, but then they settled down.

The outdoor monkey area was awash in a horrid stench that was hard to take even in the cleansing rain. Green, scary looking water flowed down the waterfall there, and I didn't linger. It was depressing. The baboons out there couldn't even get out of the rain - there was no shelter there. They sat slumped against fake rocks looking dejected and unamused. The most depressing part was how resigned they looked to their current state of affairs. If I were a 400 pound baboon stuck in that shitty habitat, I would hell of make some noise about it. Rip open some fake rocks, start hurling some rock facade at those fucking kids who won't shut up. I would get down to business.

The poor fish, they were all jammed up together. Every fish display I saw, they were packed in like sardines. One display had a hippo in there, too. The whole display was probably smaller than my apartment, which is two rooms plus a bathroom and a kitchen. That's it. And it's bigger than the place where this hippo has to live with all these fish. 90% of the display is water, poor Hippo has two little dry areas at each end of the water. Fucking depressing.

Blurry pic of hippo:

Hippo comes:

Hippo goes:

Look at this, you can see the back wall. It's painted blue so as to fool the casual observer, who might not notice the shadows of the fish on the wall:

The cat house was only half full. The cats that were there looked emaciated and sad. One of them jumped into the gully between the habitat and the place where we all stand around leering. He was pretty pissed off when he got down there:

There was one lonely polar bear. He actually had quite a nice enclosure. I couldn't get a decent shot of it because of the rain, but he had a nice rock area and a big swimming pool. But he kept just swimming around in a circle in one little corner of the pool. It was as if he knew full well that there was no point in going to the other end of the pool because it was the same depressing scene over there, so it was better to save his energy and just hang out in his corner.

The camels all stood together as if they were scared to be more than five feet from each other. One of the camels had a bockety hump:

All in all, a pretty fucking depressing day at the zoo. It was fun to watch the ducks, though. And the kids were kind of funny when they were standing by the bat display and the bats would come flying right at them, sense the glass then fly the other way. It would have been depressing if those kids weren't screaming bloody murder and running away.

It wasn't the rain that made it depressing, it was the lack of happy animals. What the hell kind of zoo doesn't have a fucking elephant?

You get what you pay for, I guess. From here on out, it's Brookfield zoo all the way.

Oh, here are some of the pics I took there. I'll add more later:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Adventures in Cooking!

So, I had this:

But not this:

So I added water instead.

For those of you unfamiliar with my cooking history, I have been known to screw up Hamburger Helper. No, I'm not kidding. So the results of my willy-nilly ingredient substitutions are a surprise to only me. But I digress.

I tried to get a shot of the mixture as it actually boiled in the oven, but my slumlord doesn't think a kitchen needs much lighting and the flash from the camera seemed to scare the concoction and send it scurrying further back into the oven. So, here's a shot of what it looked like when it came out of the oven:

If you want to know how that watery bit tastes, suck on a tootsie roll and wash it down with a 60/40 mix of water and oil. Don't forget to use the water from the rusty tap down in the basement!

Mmmmmm what a morsel!

Looks almost good enough to eat, eh?

For those of you wondering what a treat like this tastes like, I have put together this helpful montage of what happened when I tried to actually eat this tasty treat. Please to enjoy:

Sunday, August 12, 2007


It didn't look like much, but it was my green castle in the vast and spectral sky. Night after night I'd watch you from my perch as you scuttled by on your way from point A to point B and all stops in between. Your loves, your mundane petty arguments, your grief - I saw it all. And you saw naught of me, hidden as I was in my green castle, above your heads and beyond your secrets.

And then the day came, it was time to make myself known. The day none of you will ever forget: when I stormed out of my castle, wielding a shotgun and a purpose.

Sunflower field

The smell of dew settling on grass in the wee hours of the night - the darkest part of night before the dawn sheds some light on the subject - that's the smell that always takes me back to this field.

Sweet sunflower field, it held my childhood dreams and adventures. It was where I hid and sought, where I brought my private thoughts and public tantrums. A few years later, it was where I brought the boys who claimed to love me, and we'd make love under these white stars and yellow petals and for a few hours, at least, I could believe them.

Oak Park

Went for a stroll today around Oak Park, a little hell of liberal town that starts where Chicago leaves off, geographically.

IMG_1119 - Twango

IMG_1180 - Twango

IMG_1136 - Twango

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Book fair

I went to a book fair today at my old high school. I haven't stepped foot in this place in eleven years. I expected to have old, fond memories rush back to me as I stepped foot in the door. Old drama, old love, old friends were supposed to fill my nostalgia deprived mind as I made my way through the glass doors and sauntered through the entry hall.

But it wasn't there. None of it. Not a lick. I was with two friends who I didn't know when we were students here. It was a big school. We pointed out some differences in the place, but nothing really sat with me and said, "I remember seeing Rob F. over by those doors every day at lunch," or "Isn't this where Amy punched Jody because of Adam?"

This was no longer a brick-and-mortar harbinger of my youth. This place held no solace for me, no great inspiration of what it means to have gone out in the world and live a life of my own for ten years. My youth is now held in my mind, and in random messages on MySpace from old schoolmates who track me down from time to time. The friends I had when I was in high school have blown to the four winds. Even the ones I kept in touch with regularly are no longer a part of my life. I let the last one go down his alcohol-induced rabbit hole six months ago.

But the books! Oh, the books brought back memories. "Yellow Raft in Blue Water" was on every table in the room. It was required reading for sophomores at the school. Other titles from English class peered at me between broken spines of less nostalgic tomes to remind me of this teacher or that class, or that fight I was in where I lost this book.

The smell of the old books brought back years and years of memories, from books handed down to me from my mom or libraries where I spent my time with books that didn't harass or make fun of me like my siblings and classmates. Most people describe it as a musty smell. To me, it smells like youth and weary happiness. Flipping through an old hardcover with a spine that always makes that old hardcover noise that's half-squeak, half-pop - that's where my youth lives. In Dicey's Song and Behind the Attic Wall and myriad other stories that swept me out of my humdrum life and took me everywhere I needed to go, that's where my solace lives.

Spending an hour in that old cafeteria among the yellowed pages of homeless books was like my own little Saturday afternoon heaven in the adolescent hell that I've too many grudges against.

No, you can't go home again. But sometimes, unexpectedly, your home - and your youth - can find you all too easily.